PokerNews Debate: Full Tilt Poker Flipouts

A few weeks ago, Full Tilt Poker launched their newest game format, Flipouts. Flipouts are multi-table tournaments that begin with every player all in on the first hand. The winner of the flip on each table progresses to the next stage of the tournament and is reseated with the other survivors. Play continues in a standard multi-table tournament (MTT) format with the regular blind levels and stacks you would expect, but everyone is now in the money.

To celebrate and create some buzz for this new format, Full Tilt Poker put together the Flipout Festival which started just a few days after the new game format launched. It was a four-day event with $25,000 added to the prize pools of the 108-tournament, 12-event series. Each event offered nine levels of buy-ins from freeroll to $26, or a bit more for the Main Event.

The initial reaction to this game format was mixed among us at PokerNews Canada. We wanted to give the game a shot and then discuss its value to the poker community. Some of us questioned the value of this type of tournament and what self-respecting poker player would willingly buy into one. Others have defended the game and believe that it is a format that brings value to the game and to players and is worth trying out. Here’s what we had to say on the subject.

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What I love is that it gets rid of all the boring part of MTTs — all the action before the bubble. I don’t want to play for three hours just to bust out before any of the excitement of in-the-money (ITM) play. This format seems to focus on making poker fun!

I like that it fixes every player’s ITM at 11% (assuming these are all nine-handed). Some players may be more used to an ITM rate of 20% or more, but good players know that return on investment (ROI) is a better measure of MTT success than ITM. This makes you focus solely on ROI because everyone’s ITM is identical in the long run.

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While I agree with Lane’s comments, I think there is a larger perceptual issue we need to think about. At the moment, the poker industry is in a bit of a battle with regulators in the US and elsewhere about poker either being gambling or a game of skill. Flipouts like this, I believe, make poker look more like “gamble” than “skill.”

From my perspective, this format is like rolling a nine-sided die to decide who gets into money and who doesn’t ... it’s a completely random event with no user control whatsoever. In other words, a complete gamble. While the skill portion of the game is maintained in the latter stages, whether you even get to that stage or not is completely random. It think at a time when poker is trying to gain legislative legitimacy (and social acceptance) as a “sport” or a “game of skill,” it’s counter-productive to introduce a format that is essentially random instead of skill based, even if it’s only part of the format.

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I think Flipouts are ridiculous and another ploy by Full Tilt to grab a bunch of rake ... “here you go, buy into this tourney, oh shucks, you busted in the first hand. Thanks for the money. Better luck next time.” It seems like Full Tilt has just become this cartoon poker site: avatar tournaments, multi-entries, and the new flip satties as well. “Let’s play an all-in shootout. Pay your money, sit back and watch a random number generator decide your fate.” It’s like Keno; at least I get to choose some numbers in Keno.

There is zero skill in these tournaments. Wait ... are they actually tournaments? I don’t even know if I can call them that. Donkament? I mean you’d have to be a donkey or in donkey mode to put up a % of your roll right? These are just so -EV I don’t even know where to begin to calculate. Like Lyle said, let’s just throw a couple die and see who gets the money.

At my home game we do “flipaments” at the end of the cash game. Mostly to chip up small change and hopefully turn that $2 or $3 sitting on top of your winnings into a nice $10-$20. Usually there has been a significant amount of alcohol consumed by this time as well, so the GAMBOOL is activated. When I sit down for an online session. GAMBOOL is turned off and beast/grind mode is on.

I definitely have to disagree with Lane in regards to the first few hours being the “boring” part of an MTT. Poker is skill; it takes skill to build a stack. I take pride in building that stack. I appreciate the strategy and tactics that are involved in making the money. I love the nerves, the intensity, and the adrenaline that happens around the bubble. I don’t want it handed to me by a computer program. I want to earn it. The early stages of a tournament show who the better players are. The cream rise to the top and the fish fall to the bottom.

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The whole objective of poker players after Black Friday in the US was to prove that poker is a skill game. The new “flipaments” put on by Full Tilt Poker do the exact opposite of the concept of poker being a skill game. All players are playing this tournament as a gamble and it takes away the skills and talents of the better players until the first round is over. Even after the first round is over the tournament becomes a shove fest for all the players that are in the money.

In theory, you should make the money one out of every nine tournaments. Taking the pay structure and payouts from the $0.55 81-man sit-and-go flipament, for the amount of times you should cash, you need a top-three placement every time you cash to make a small profit or break even. With the turbo structures this tournament provides this will be extremely hard to do when it becomes a shove-fest after three levels of play at the final table. Yes, you may be seated at a table with very weak players when you have made the money, but these tournaments give bad players more of a chance to make the money and good players more of a chance to lose their hard-earned money made off of the bad players.

If you are going to give the Flipament any credit at all, it makes tournaments go much faster for players that don’t have a lot of time to spend grinding out a long tournament and just want to get into the money. Grinding out an online tournament to get a min-cash can be time consuming and frustrating. This takes the time consuming aspect away from it. Even though it may take you nine buy-ins to do so.

In my opinion, this is a backwards step to what we are trying to accomplish when trying to get poker recognized and legalized globally. When we introduce a variant of poker that relies on no skill whatsoever to make money it hurts our case.

We will soon see how much players gravitate toward these types of tournaments and whether they generate interest. My opinion is that a lot skilled players will stay away from them and the interest will steadily decline.

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Matt’s final statement is exactly why I think these tournaments can be fun AND possibly profitable: “skilled players will stay away.” When you make it ITM, I think your runs will be deeper than usual on average. Most MTTs sort the players through the early levels and, even if it feels like a soft tournament early on, it is mostly the better players remaining once ITM and the game becomes more challenging. With these Flipouts, the players who make ITM are chosen randomly, so the play ITM and on the final table will be just as soft as the first levels of a “normal” tournament. And if no skilled players are going to be grinding these regularly, the play will be super soft.

Also, I think profitability as the sole measure of what makes a good tournament is somewhat misguided. A large number of poker players play the game for fun. These recreational players who continually deposit into their accounts are the people who fuel the entire industry. If they want to just enjoy the fun ITM stage of the tournament and are willing to lose a bit of ROI to do so, I say “bring on the Flipouts.”

One last note. It appears that most, or all, of the Flipouts are also multi-entry. So you can buy-in three entries to a single tournament and get 1/3rd odds that one of your stacks will make it ITM. That way, you don’t have to take a single stab at a scheduled Flipout and have to wait until another time to try again if you don’t survive the first round. I’ve played a few of these already and will likely try them again. I don’t always have hours and hours to play a MTT. These let me get down to the pay-levels quickly where good ICM understanding will come into play.

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Lane’s argument was trying to convince me, but given that I hadn’t even played a Flipout tournament, I figured I should actually play some so I was commenting on something I’d actually researched. I chose the $0.55 81-player sit-and-go format, taking advantage of the double-entry feature on Fult Tilt. In total, I entered six tournaments with two entries each for a total of 12 shots.

And I busted all 12 runs. One of the key things to remember when watching your first round in Flipouts is that the “odds” you are used to in regular Hold'em don’t really apply. For example, if you are dealt Q-Q, in a “normal” Hold'em game if you get your stack in, it’s usually against a single other opponent, and you are a favourite. In the Flipout, you are nine-handed of course, and your Q-Q may technically be the best hand, but it still loses the hand more often than it wins the hand, since the odds of the other eight players combined are well higher than the odds of your Q-Q. That means that even when dealt a strong hand in the first round, you are still basically in a crap shoot.

I’d like to be able to make a comment on the actual money round, but unfortunately, I didn’t make it to one. While in theory you should cash in these one in nine times, clearly that doesn’t mean you will cash in one tournament every nine ones you play, and the reality of probabilities means real samples never work out to the theoretical odds exactly, so there will be times when I cash two or three or four of these in a row, “against the odds.”

At the end of the day, I think the lack of any skill involvement in making the money is a serious problem for these types of tournaments. Not only does it give poker a more “gamble” image, but for skill-players it will lock in your ITM at 11% at best over the long term. The early parts of a poker tournament aren’t “boring” as Lane contests ... that’s the time when the good players are separated from the average ones, and the time when good players can build stacks that will let them go deep into the money. That’s when the “real poker” is played, as opposed to later when stack sizes and blinds dictate a much higher-variance style of play that limits the power of skill.

So I have to stay with my current take, albeit with a bit more empirical evidence behind me now. The Flipout tournaments are, hopefully, a short-lived fad that will die out soon. I think that skilled players should stay away from them because the format seems designed to blunt skill as much as possible. But perhaps the larger problem is that, at a time when the poker industry as a whole is looking for regulatory and social acceptance as well as sponsorship in markets like the US, and when a company like Full Tilt is trying to repair a name damaged by Black Friday, introducing a style of poker that ramps up the gamble to the highest level seems like a bad idea.

What do you think? Have you tried the Flipouts on Full Tilt Poker? Download Full Tilt through PokerNews Canada for a generous deposit bonus and give them a shot!

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